WASHINGTON — President Trump signed a pair of trade actions imposing steep tariffs on washing machines and solar panels on Tuesday, saying the taxes on imports "demonstrate to the world that the United States won't be taken advantage of any more."
The tariffs result from investigations into unfair trade practices by foreign manufacturers accused of dumping products in the U.S. market. Two Korean manufacturers, LG and Samsung, have flooded the U.S. market in recent years, evading duties by moving production to Thailand and Vietnam. China dominates the solar cell market.
The tariffs imposed by the Trump administration could add as much as 50% to the cost of imported washing machines and 30% to solar panels.
But the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, estimates that the tariffs could end up threatening 23,000 American jobs. That's because most jobs are in installing and assembling solar panels, not in manufacturing the solar cells.
The tariffs — particularly those on solar panels — rankled even Republican members of Congress, many of whom come from Sun Belt states and support free trade policies.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the tariffs "nothing more than a tax on consumers." Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa., said it was "misguided," and Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C. said it was a "mistake."
"Here's something Republicans used to understand: Tariffs are taxes on families," said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. "Moms and dads shopping on a budget for a new washing machine will pay for this — not big companies. You don't fix eight years of bad energy policy with bad trade policy."
Trump said the tariffs would encourage foreign manufacturers to build plants in the United States. Samsung and LG have announced plans to build factories in South Carolina and Tennessee, and Trump says solar makers should follow suit.
Trump seemed to suggest that the tariffs were a shot across the bow for other trading partners, noting that talks on renegotiating trade agreements with Canada, Mexico and South Korea are underway.
"NAFTA is moving along pretty well," he said of the North American Free Trade Agreement talks underway in Montreal. "I happen to be of the opinion that if it doesn't work out, we'll terminate it. We'll see how it works out."
Trump signed the tariff declarations at an Oval Office ceremony Tuesday, even though U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had already announced them the previous day.
While insisting that there "won't be a trade war," Trump also said he would take his "America First" trade policy to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland later this week.
"You're going to have people getting good jobs again, and they'll be making more product again," he said. "It's been a long time."